Iginla, mates offer their support

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Team Canada players rallied in support of their embattled leader yesterday.

Less than a week before Canada begins the Olympic hockey tournament against the host Italians in Turin, Jarome Iginla and many of his teammates offered their full backing to executive director Wayne Gretzky.

Despite reports that the Great One knew about the alleged Operation Slap Shot betting scandal involving Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet, Gretzky still plans on going to Italy, where he is certain to be greeted by a media circus.

But Iginla said Gretzky's presence will be a positive for Canada's gold-medal aspirations, not a detriment as some are suggesting.

"I don't think it will be a distraction," Iginla said yesterday in Calgary. "I'm not sure what's going to happen with the investigation, but the Olympics are next week and guys are going to be very focused and looking forward to it.

"I want him there. I haven't heard anything different but I'm hoping he's going to be there."

Forward Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, the NHL team which Gretzky coaches, echoed Iginla's sentiments.

ULTIMATE AMBASSADOR

"As a Canadian, Wayne is the ultimate ambassador for our sport and Canada," Doan told reporters in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I'd love to have him there."

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson arrived in Turin yesterday and did not deliver an official comment. Neither did assistant executive director Kevin Lowe nor director of player personnel Steve Tambellini, who still are in North America.

According to a Hockey Canada source, the organization had held off on making a statement because circumstances surrounding the Operation Slap Shot affair seemed to be changing on a daily basis.

"It's an ongoing investigation," defenceman Rob Blake told reporters in Minnesota. "We've got to wait until all the facts come in. But as far as the Olympics and the team , we prepare the same. That's not going to be a distraction whatsoever."

Gretzky and Blake were one-time teammates with the Los Angeles Kings.

"When your face is all over the news, you feel for all those guys involved,"Blake said. "You hope it plays out the way you want it to.

"There's different rumors every day. No one will know everything until it comes to trial or whatever they have to do. It's an unfortunate situation, but it will play itself out."


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